Even with their bitter congressional campaign behind them, Rep. Kathleen C. Hochul and successor Chris Collins continue to agree on little – including how to deal with the nation’s looming “fiscal cliff.”
Collins, the newly elected Republican from the 27th Congressional District, has not wavered an iota against avoiding tax increases to address a growing federal budget deficit.
On the other hand, Hochul, who is serving out her term in Congress, believes that compromise will avoid a plunge over the fiscal cliff that some experts predict could spawn a 0.5 percent dip in the economy next year.
While attending freshman orientation sessions in Washington this week, Collins was already challenging the logic of President Obama’s call Wednesday for “middle ground” while still seeking tax increases on the wealthy.
“Clearly, I’m disappointed that the first thing he said was that he would raise taxes on the wealthy,” Collins said. “I was encouraged he said we want to reach across the aisle, but the next thing he said is he didn’t want to cooperate.”
“That’s a nonstarter,” he said of the tax hike proposal, adding that tax increases and job creation “go together like oil and water.”
The latest differences with Hochul reflect the tenor of their just-completed campaign.
While Obama proposed additional taxes on those earning more than $250,000 throughout the campaign, the outgoing congresswoman is talking about ways to bring Republicans to the negotiating table.
“There is middle ground,” she said. “I believe the threshold is $500,000, and that way you don’t hurt small business with higher taxes and still have a major step toward deficit reduction.
“We need to return to the tax rates of 2000, when we had a surplus in this country and the economy was literally on fire,” she said.
But she also made it clear that spending reductions are needed.
Hochul consistently emphasized the need to reach across the aisle in the race she barely lost. And just as consistently, Collins ran in the state’s most Republican congressional district emphasizing a pledge to stand firm against raising taxes.
Now their latest political chasm is widening as both are in Washington – Hochul still holding the power to vote; Collins champing at the bit to take over in January.
He thinks the current Congress should “kick the can down the road” during the lame-duck session, seeking a more permanent solution in the new year.
“And I’m not a kick-the-can kind of guy,” he said.
If there is one theme that Collins has emphasized in recent days, it’s the need for Obama “to lead.” Part of that obligation, he said, is for the re-elected president to recognize that he and fellow Republicans will not raise taxes.
“He needs to lead the debate,” Collins said. “He has not led the last four years, but needs to lead the next four years. The Republican House members have been the ones to offer solutions but just get gunned down by the president and the Senate.
“OK, Mr. President,” he added. “You now have to lead … and understand that Republicans will not change their position on a tax increase.”
Collins said he does not believe that Obama can claim to represent the nation’s sentiments on taxes in the face of a House that voters returned to GOP control.
“He absolutely does not have a mandate,” Collins said. “If there is a mandate, it’s for him to lead.”
Collins will begin voting in the House in January on the premise that lots of fiscal cliff solutions are possible – except new taxes.
“If that’s what it comes down to, the answer is no,” Collins said. “Everything is on the table except raising taxes on small-business owners.”
A neighboring Republican congressman, Tom Reed of Corning, is sounding more conciliatory. He told reporters in a Tuesday conference call that compromise is possible.
“I wanted to stress my firm commitment to do whatever I can to try to find common ground to make sure that we do not go over this fiscal cliff,” he said, according to the Elmira Star-Gazette. “We have studied this from all angles, and if we do go over this fiscal cliff, I see significant impact on our economy.”
Reed did not summarily dismiss the prospect of a deal on taxes. “We’re going to have to wait and see exactly what the package is,” he said.
Hochul, meanwhile, approaches the lame-duck session adamantly opposed to the temporary fix suggested by Collins.
“It needs to be tackled now,” she said. “It’s irresponsible to push it down the road. The uncertainty that now paralyzes this country can be solved if we can do this as soon as possible.”
The congresswoman said that even though she lost the election, she feels she is still reflecting the wishes of her constituents.
“All I heard on the campaign trail is that Democrats and Republicans have to stop fighting,” she said. “Whatever happens in the 113th Congress, I have no control over. But it’s still the 112th Congress, and I’ll represent the district the way I always have.”